It’s the dream of many (though not all) with hearing loss: a cure for deafness — a way to restore natural hearing, or provide it to some for the first time.
So far, it’s been elusive, and progress seems to move slowly. Partly this is because hearing loss is not easily corrected the way faulty vision can usually be with glasses or contact lenses. While hearing aids have gotten more sophisticated, they still can’t come close to replicating normal hearing, particularly in noisy environments.
However, I think the larger issue is the societal attitude towards hearing loss. It is mostly ignored, seen as an inevitable part of aging, or treated as a personal fault of the patient (“Just listen to me!”). Because it is not taken seriously, the research has not been well-funded or seen as urgent.
It’s surprising to me that in this day and age, advances towards a cure are mostly contained in the realm of non-profits and academia. Some notable organizations include the Stanford Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss in California, Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston, and the Hough Ear Institute in Oklahoma. They need outside funding in order to continue their work, meaning they are reliant on donors. As I’ve written before, the NIH doesn’t even list hearing loss as a condition it funds, despite the fact that it’s the third-most common chronic health condition in the U.S.
More recently, some hearing loss research methods have been patented and for-profit companies formed. The Wall Street Journal covered this last year — such companies include Decibel Therapeutics, Frequency Therapeutics, and Akuous, which are all based in Boston.
What is keeping progress from moving forward? This is something that I’ll seek to keep writing about. It’s on the mind of many those with hearing loss, who don’t want to hear that “someday” this will happen. “Someday” can be soon — if more people prioritize hearing loss as a fully curable condition.